Simon Read: Facebook and PayPal may be about to cash in as people get more fed up with high-street banks

 

Which? says the unfair current account market is long overdue for a shake-up. It called this week for the Competition and Markets Authority to refer current accounts to a full competition inquiry.

Explaining why, the Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: "Low switching levels and a high level of complaints show the unhealthy dominance of the biggest banks is set to continue and this market is not working in the best interests of consumers.

"We estimate only 4.2 per cent of people will switch accounts this year. Unless we see an injection of much-needed competition into the market, the major high-street banks will continue to have a stranglehold."

That needs to change. But there are more positive indications that financial services will sooner or later be snatched away from the high-street banks' stranglehold.

The biggest news this week was the reports that Facebook has plans to enter the arena. The social network isn't apparently intending to take on the banks directly, but instead will provide remittances and electronic money. To put it simply, the internet giant will give its users the power to transfer cash between each other.

That sounds like quite an attractive prospect to me. The chance to click on a mate or family member on Facebook and transfer cash to them, either as a gift or because you owe it to them, could be hugely convenient.

Paypal is already a giant of payments in the internet world and appears to have partial aspirations to take on the banks. In fact it is already vested as a bank in Europe, in the tax-effective country of Luxembourg.

It's also moving fast into the world of payments on the high street, with Paypal already having signed up more than 2,000 UK shops and restaurants to accept its smartphone app as a payment method.

Moving money around is the main reason why most of us use banks in the first place, so switching loyalty to internet firms may not be too far away. That's especially likely given the continuing low levels of trust that the big banks have among consumers. Are the internet firms more likely to be trusted? Despite Facebook's many mis-steps, such as concerns about personal data mining, it is still seen as a relatively trusted company.

Paypal, too, has had criticisms, not least for its actions in locking up people's cash for months on the slightest suspicion of fraud. But it has worked to improve its terms and conditions and many millions use it every day with no complaints.

So both are likely to be well placed to seem attractive to people fed up with rip-off charges and poor service from their bank.

However, privacy issues will remain important. If Facebook is seem to be further abusing its position as the holder of billions of pieces of personal information, then it will kill its chances of becoming a trusted provider of financial services, even if it just turns out to be money transmission. For instance, recent research showed that prospective borrowers were disgusted at the news that lenders, such as Wonga, use social media as a means to make a decision on whether to lend to them.

The research for Amigo Loans showed that seven out of 10 borrowers are unhappy about the practice. More than a third said it made them angry, labelling it untrustworthy and an invasion of privacy. And in a clear warning to Facebook, almost half said they would consider deactivating their social media profiles if they discovered such a breach of privacy.That's something the big data firms and social networks must consider before driving away their users by exploiting them too much.

s.read@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @simonnread

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